Friday, August 24, 2007

Yesterday, August 23rd, was the anniversary of the 1927 execution of Italian American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolemo Vanzetti by the state of Massachusetts. A collection of platformist groups have released a statement about the significance of this anniversary on the A-Infos site. Even though the anarchists were eventually "pardoned" by the then-Governor of Massachusetts in 1977 (well, thanks guy, a little too late) the case still resonates today. From opera, to popular music, from painting to mentions in the TV series 'Family Guy', from films about the case to poetry , from the stage to mentions in novels the massive injustice of the case has resonated down the years.
Nicola Sacco (1891-1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1888-1927) were both Italian born immigrants to the USA who joined the anarchist movement of the day. They were attracted to the politics of Luigi Galleani who advocated violent action against the ruling class. The rather pathetic actions of the Galleanists attracted massive police repression, and most of his followers went underground. The author of the ideology was deported on June 24th, 1919. His followers were hardly dealt with as mercifully. On the morning of May 3rd, 1920 the anarchist Andrea Salsedo was 'defenestrated' through a window on the 14th floor of the NY Dept. of Justice building. Sacco and Vanzetti were part of the anarchists who called a public meeting in Boston to protest this murder. On May 5th they were arrested for this protest. The charges rapidly escalated to murder as they were accused of a robbery the previous April in which two security guards had been killed.
The resulting trail was a total judicial farce. The political views of the accused were raised over and over as "evidence". There was immense disagreement over forensic evidence presented at the trial, evidence that was of very poor quality overall. Eyewitness testimony disagreed about identifying the pair, and some had obviously been "planted" by the police. Witnesses changed their stories over and over under pressure. The judge, Webster Thayer, exhibited the grossest sort of bias. He ended this by remarking after the trial, "Did you see what I did to those anarchist bastards ?" to one of his friends. There was even a confession by another criminal whom Sacco met in prison. All appeals for a new trial were denied.
On April 8th, 1927 the pair were sentenced to death. The case brought worldwide condemnation on the part of both the labour movement and prominent intellectuals such as Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Bertrand Russell, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. The execution sparked worldwide strikes, protests and riots. The US Embassy in Paris had to be surrounded by tanks to protect it. Shortly before his execution Vanzetti said, "The last moment belongs to us- that agony is our triumph". Both men refused the ministrations of a priest before their executions. In the final moments Vanzetti shook hands with his guards, thanked them for their kind treatment and read a statement proclaiming his innocence, finishing with, "I wish to forgive some people for what they are now doing to me". Sacco's final words were, "Viva l'anarchia" and "Farewell, mia madre".
Further historical dissection of the Sacco and Vanzetti case has generally pointed to their innocence of the crimes for which they were accused. For an overview of the whole event see the Wikipedia article . For an excellent overview of the legalities of the case see 'The Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti' at . For one anarchist view amongst many on the matter see the WSM article at
For an immensely valuable and comprehensive source of information on Sacco and Vanzetti and the response to their trial, both past and present, see Eugene Plawiuk's entry for Thursday, August 23rd at Le Revue Gauche. There's a wealth of information there for those interested in this case and, as briefly touched on above, how 'The Never Ending Wrong' has echoed down through the years.


eugene plawiuk said...

And don't forget my blog post on Sacco and Vanzetti.

mollymew said...

Consider it done Eugene. See the post modification above.